ACC Expansion: Don't Assume Rutgers, UConn Will Join League

Analysis

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on September 19 2011 11:04 AM
Connecticut Huskies
Don't bank on Jim Calhoun and the Connecticut Huskies getting an ACC invite as quickly as Pittsburgh and Syracuse did. REUTERS

Connecticut and Rutgers have both expressed interest in joining the ACC, according to reports, but don't bank on the schools joining the conference in the very near future.

After fellow Big East conference schools Pittsburgh and Syracuse bailed for the ACC, media attention turned to Rutgers and Connecticut as the ACC's next possible targets.

Representatives for Rutgers and UConn both hinted that their schools were making contingency plans if the Big East were to collapse, and an ESPN report indicated that UConn was aggressively pursuing membership in the ACC.

But as quickly as Pittsburgh and Syracuse went to the ACC -- the move went from an out of nowhere report on Friday to confirmed on Saturday -- don't expect the same sort of timeline with Rutgers and UConn.

John Swofford, the commissioner of the ACC, said on Sunday that the league was content with 14 teams, but was not philosophically opposed to expanding to 16 teams. Interpretation: We'll add two more teams, but they need to be the right two teams.

As Swofford indicated, the conference isn't opposed to adding more teams, but is likely going to hold tight at 14 and wait to see how everything turns out. Jeff Barker of the Baltimore Sun reported on Sunday that while Maryland and Duke are privately pushing for 16 teams, some schools are resistant to add more schools -- particularly Connecticut.

The ACC made a tremendously proactive move by adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse -- two high caliber athletic and academic schools -- and now has the capability of taking a backseat to all the madness. The conference is likely going to wait to see what the Big 10, Pac-12, and SEC do before making a major move.

The top target for ACC going forward appears to be Notre Dame, but whether the Indiana school is willing to give up its football independent status to join the conference remains to be seen. The Big 10 has longed for Notre Dame several years, but the school has been content leaving its non-football sports in the Big East, while raking in the dough with an exclusive television contract with NBC.

With the Big East on the verge of implosion, Notre Dame might feel more pressure to finally join a conference, whether it's the Big 10 or the ACC. One potential option is for it to keep its independence and just leave its other sports in whatever the Big East reforms itself as, but it could leave the school more vulnerable if the main conferences all grow to 16 teams.

Notre Dame's movement plus Texas' unknown destination is going to leave the ACC in a holding pattern for at least a little bit. The conference might move to grab Rutgers, especially if it hears word of the Big 10 making a move at the New Jersey school, but UConn might be a different story.

While the school does help the conference dominate even more of the Eastern seaboard, it doesn't bring the television markets that Rutgers does. Multiple Big East programs could make arguments for owning the New York television market, including Connecticut, Rutgers, and Syracuse, but Rutgers' closer proximity to the No. 1 television market gives it a bit of an advantage. Connecticut might come along for the ride simply because no better option is out there -- not to say Connecticut is a bad option -- but that's exactly why the ACC will be content to sit and wait to see what other options there are.

It's clear that Notre Dame and Texas are the two top options - and the ACC is going to wait to see what those two teams end up doing.

If Texas ends up heading to the Pac-12, as rumored but not confirmed, then it could be time for the ACC to make another move. But the important thing to remember in all of this conference realignment movement is that it's all about financials. Although some could claim that conferences and schools are acting foolhardy and panicky with all of this realignment, ultimately money is the driving force.

The big conferences -- ACC, Big 10, Pac-12, and SEC -- aren't going to add schools just for the sake of getting to 16 teams. If it doesn't make financial sense, then the conference isn't going to do it.

Right now some conference members are raising doubts that UConn provides those necessary financial benefits for admittance. So although the conference realignment rumor mill is in full force and most are already placing Rutgers and UConn in the ACC, it'd be prudent to relax and realize that this process isn't likely to happen for some time.

Swofford announced on Sunday that 10 schools had indicated interest in joining the conference, which means that the ACC has quite a few options.

The options range from Rutgers, UConn to fellow Big East member Villanova, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The wide range of options -- not including the six or seven unknown schools -- allows the ACC to take its time.

Could Rutgers and UConn eventually end up in the ACC? Certainly, but to automatically assume that both will get invites is unwise.

 

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